‘A lot at stake politically’ for Putin in battle for Kherson

© Donetsk People's Republic, Handout, AFP

Ukrainian troops are continuing their arduous advance towards the strategic southern city of Kherson, after their lightning gains in the Kharkiv region in September. Analysts say a Ukrainian victory is likely. But they caution that a counter-offensive will be much harder than that rapid advance in the northeast – especially because so much is at stake for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kherson is a crucial strategic prize – the only regional capital the Russians control. And so is the Kherson region, the gateway to the Crimean peninsula that Russia seized in 2014. Now the Ukrainian forces are trying to encircle this city on the western bank of the Dnieper River – trapping Russian forces there – while targeting infrastructure their enemies rely on, such as the now unusable Antonovsky Bridge.

But the counter-offensive is much more difficult than it was in the northeast. It is now the rainy season in Ukraine, and that makes it much harder to move military vehicles around, as Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov noted at a press conference on Wednesday. He also said that Russian forces are using irrigation canals in Kherson region as trenches to slow down Ukrainian soldiers’ advance.

Members of the Russian-backed administration have fled along with civilians, Kherson’s deputy governor Kirill Stremousov said on Thursday – adding that the Russian army will not leave.

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